The change of Industrial landscape in Kolkata
Director: Ranu Ghosh; Cinematographer: Ranu Ghosh
Duration: 00:49:39; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 44.990; Saturation: 0.019; Lightness: 0.405; Volume: 0.222; Cuts per Minute: 0.524; Words per Minute: 55.213
Summary: Five hundred factories and more are closed, sick or shut down in West Bengal as on date. Over six hundred thousand workers have lost their jobs, or have been displaced with no foreseeable future. Apparently, the Leftist government of Bengal wants a “revival” which is largely happening by acquiring agricultural land to set up large-scale industries mostly with the support of both Indian and international private investors. At the same time, especially in Calcutta, operational factories are being sold off to provide premium space for high value real estate “development”. These contradictory development activities in the state raise many important questions about the entire issue of “development” itself.
A classic example of such development is the South City Project on Anwar Shaw Road in south Calcutta. Jay Engineering, a large sewing machine and fan manufacturing unit of the Usha Group of Industries operating since the 1950s was closed down, made defunct, and the land handed over to a consortium of five major real estate “magnates” in 2003. Having demolished the factory buildings, the construction of the South City Project - “Eastern India's largest mixed-use real estate development” - comprising three 35-storey towers, one 28-storey tower, a shopping mall, school, multiplex, club etc, started from February 2004. This included the illegal filling up of one of south Calcutta's largest natural water bodies. The workers of Jay Engineering were forced into “voluntary retirement” with little or no compensation
From student days, my interest in issues concerning the environment and development has been a motivating factor and I was drawn towards the impact of the South City development. I began to personally document the demolition of the factory sheds and towards the end of 2004 I shot the demolished quarters, the early phases of the construction work, and recorded interviews of some displaced workers.
In 1995, in the context of shifting of factory premises from the city of Delhi, The Supreme Court had given a ruling to protect the city from random urban development on the vacated land. According to this ruling, if the plot of land measures more than 5 hectares, 65% of the land has to be given to the Municipal Corporation for planting trees and developing gardens. Only 35% of the land may be used for construction. Joy Engineering Works has flouted this ruling and sold off the entire land to the South City project. The people living in the neigbourhood of the complex have been deprived of open spaces, playgrounds and gardens. Instead, they have got a concrete jungle, pollution and traffic jam.
I interviewed Vhaskar Gupta, a resident of that locality who has done a court case against the Pollution Control Board. I shot this interview from the top of his roof. I met and interviewed him over two years.
In 2004 I heard the Usha factory land has been sold to the consortium developing high-rise south city complex.
This was completely contrary to what the then chief minister Jyoti Basu had declared in '94 when said that the usha factory land would be used for the construction of Apollo Hospital and that a pharmaceutical factory would also come up there providing employment and other benefits to the local population.
"Who would've known...when I bought my house here least did I know this would happen. We had heard there would be pharmaceutical factory here and usually factories don't have very tall buildings.
Basically, this is a PIL issue, not so much about Article 226, which is a common right. This is hampering the interest of the public and thus comes under the Public Interest Litigation issue. There are many instances of PIL cases in the past. This is not a personal fight for the hampering of an individual interest, but what we must not forget is that it takes many individuals coming together to make a public. And when something affects a mass, it must be restricted. This case is being handled by the Chief Judge and another senior judge in the Kolkata High Court. It is being tackled at the highest bench, after this the matter will need to go straight to the Supreme Court.
In 1995,I was living in rental accommodation in the locality right behind the erstwhile Usha Factory on Prince Anwar Shah Road,the site of the present mammoth real estate development known as south city.
The smaller workshops and sheds of ancillary manufacturers and vendors abutted the factory and I could see a lot of them from the rooftop of my house.
Question: Who started this case and when?
Reply: There was a gentleman who started this before me. Our cause is the same, he stands by the same ideals that we do. We just highlighted certain specific issues in our case. He started it during our annual festival in October and we started this in January. In these past months there has already been one hearing about this project that we see behind us. On March 30 there will be another hearing, so we hope it is in our favour. That's all we can hope for.
There are two parties involved and both the sides need to be heard and understood well before any decision is taken. This, of course, will take time but PIL cases are not like your regular cases that go for several years, judgments are made much quicker.
I interacted with the people in the dense settlement around the jheel and among them I found active members of the major political parties of West Bengal. Their hutments on the edge of the jheel stand on firm ground, which in a way proves that the slow process of illegitimate filling of the water body has been going on for a long time and it serves the vested interest of so many people to get the jheel filled. Most of these encroacher have the tacit support of some political party or the other.
I has been recording the progress of South City with my camera from outside. My visual documentation shows that the land behind the towers III and IV is now more than what it used to be. The trees that lined this part of the jheel are now gone. Instead the parking space extends to this spot and cars can pass smoothly. Very soon, all traces of the water body will be obliterated by encroacher's from all classes – those who live in slums and those who live in towers.
Question: You mentioned that there are some famous people supporting you along with many common people as well. Do you think this will help this rapid construction/development to stop?
Reply: We are carrying out this movement with the hope to achieve a positive outcome at the end of it. But there is a possibility that it may not result in our favour. Especially because the people behind these projects have been claiming, via the media, that their project is a Rs 1,300 crore project, which is very good for the nation's development - Kolkata's Kohinoor. Of course, it is Kohinoor, but only for them who profit from it. Anyway, all we hope is to have a fair trial as we have approached the judges of the High Court and we expect them to play a fair game as we do trust them. Now, if that does not happen, well, we'll be back to square one where the King does what he feels like and his people continue to do their routine work in a corner of the King's large empire for the rest of their lives.
I have seen the map of Kolkata published by National Atlas and Thematic Mapping organisation. Few blue patches in the map is the Bikramgarh Jheel ,one of the large water bodies in southern bank though the residential quarter hardly allow to be seen.
In a dense populated area,the presence of a large water body is a unique phenomenon which therefore requires special attention from all quarters.
There's just one thing left to say. Idle factories will continue to give itself to bigger projects and that cannot be stopped. The only thing we request is for such projects to abide by the rules and laws set by the Kolkata Corporation, the Pollution Control board as well as the West Bengal's Land Use and Development Control. This way, those who want to earn money will do so and the industrial land will be put to good use. All we want is to save the essence of Kolkata; allow it to have few trees, welcome few birds and let the birds' chirping fill Kolkata with joy.
Sometime the beginning of March of 2006,i was shooting displaced workers who have been staying outside the boundary wall of south city. I hard about Shambhu Prasad singh still staying inside the complex in his quarter which is close to the boundary wall.
I made a desperate attempt climbed up the wall and started calling Shambhu by his name. From there I could see the Shambhu's den,a two storied forlorn quarter,covered on three sides by under construction gigantic concrete towers of south city projects.
A dark lanky man might be his mid forties came out from his top floor within a minute. he was visibly flabbergasted seeing me on the top of the wall. I narrated him quickly about my interest shambhu took no time to response 'you get down and wait there. I am meeting you in two minutes'.
I was thrilled meeting such individual who has challenged the destructive development while resisting his own victimisation.
"At the same time this is almost like a fear that is surrounding you from all around."
"Yes, that is exactly what it is. I live in fear. But what can I do, where can I go?"
"This feels like a nightmare."
"It sure does. Earlier I used to come onto the terrace at night to sleep; it used to be great fun. But look now, it's impossible to do so. Quite scary actually. Noise all the time, people everywhere , it's a very abnormal situation."
"It's like it is standing on your shoulder."
"The one here is at a distance of 200 metres but this tower no. 4 right here is at a distance of 20 feet. You look up and you're actually scared. Look at the trees behind you; they aren't going to be around once this building is completed."
Question: "Could you please tell us what the current situation in the court is?"
Reply: "I filed the case in January and another gentleman had filed a similar case, earlier, in the month of November. As of right now, both the cases are at the same spot. The Court hearings go on asking the Pollution Control to submit reports but that keeps getting delayed as they never find time to do it. It's been around eight months since the first filed case and ten months for the one I filed. No concrete decision has been taken as yet. Now the High Court judge has finally given them an ultimatum of two more weeks, i.e. on August 25 will be the final hearing. But if this too will take place for sure is indefinite. All the parties involved have their set of lawyers and each work in their own convenience whiling away time. When I had filed the case, the construction was at its first stage, today tower no. 4 is up five floors and tower no. 3 is up nine floors.
This is the current situation. The Pollution Control board had formed a special committee under Professor PN Roy -- the same committee that reported pollution problems of Shanti Niketan, Shri Niketan, Dhiga Shankar and many other organisations - who has submitted a report on this issue to the High Court. Now if this report is taken ahead correctly, then the south city projects of tower no. 3 and 4, which have broken all Pollution Control laws and misused the country's iron resources will be duly punished. So, I don't know for how long we have to wait to see justice.
Question: "What has been the role of the Pollution Control board since the very beginning?"
Reply: "In the beginning we were not aware of the magnitude of the project. We're the common man, we're not connected in any way to builders and so we had no idea of what was happening. We simply complained about noise levels, dust from stone-cutting, water problems etc. so, the Pollution Board, too, took it lightly and asked them to stop making noise and work in an ordered fashion. But soon, the builders got permissions for all the wrong things, even those that were not in the hands of the Pollution Control Board alone. So, it is clear that from the very beginning the Pollution Control Board has favoured the south city project.
Question: "Who were the people on the Pollution Control board?"
Reply: "There was no fixed committee before. The committee was formed in March 2006 with Professor PN Roy as the chairman along with three more members: A. Majumdar, ex-professor of All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health (Government of India), Manav Sengupta, faculty of Science and Technology Engineering, University of Kolkata and Biswajit Mukerjee, senior law officer of Pollution Control Board. These are four people in the committee.
Question: "So, what do think will be the decision on the March 25 hearing?"
Reply: "We cannot quiet understand what will happen in the case filed with the High Court. There may or may not be a hearing on that day. It is scheduled on a Friday in the second half. The bench consists of two chief judges, so just in case one is absent the hearing will have to be cancelled. This has happened on many occasions in the past. And if all the judges as well as our advocates are present, the south city advocate may give an excuse and not turn up, further deferring the date of hearing. And while they keep deferring the dates, the buildings keep rising. We had asked for a stay order, which did not materialise. But the Court has said that all this construction will be bound by the result of the two petitions that have been filed. So if it is in our favour, the buildings will have to be demolished as per the orders given. But we can't say anything now.
Question: "You've been on the case for a while, dealing with government officials and bureaucrats, so what is your opinion on the whole scenario?"
Reply: "This is an issue that can be seen from various perspectives. What I say may seem wrong to some and right to others. This is the crucial issue. Now, this Usha factory has 31.14 acres of land, which includes 1.41 acres of water body. The government's earlier decision was that the owners of the factory would sell the land and rehabilitate its workers to their other factory. The land here would be used to make a specialty hospital along with a medicine factory."
"Who was the Chief Minister back then?
Reply: "The chief Minister was Jyoti Basu. But ultimately 6-7 top builders of Kolkata applied for a housing project on this land and the government sanctioned it. So it's clear that the government has been favouring them. But the sanctioning of this project, to create a city out of a small place like this, was not assessed by anyone. Now if this was deliberately left unassessed or not is something I cannot comprehend. But I personally think that the government officials knowingly allowed this housing project to take place as it would not have been possible otherwise. Even a child can understand this, as this ward no 93 of south city is the most populated ward in Kolkata with a population of more than 50,000 people in 1996 and 10,000 houses in 1997. A proposal such as this could not have come, let alone passed, in this area. Apart from the 1700 flats that are coming up, we've heard that a grand shopping complex, school, hospital etc. are all in the making. If this is the plan, the traffic statistics will be close to 5000-6000 vehicles on the road but our roads here cannot take this kind of load. This area will soon become such that wealthy people will be living here but will not have roads to take their cars out. They will have to ultimately go by foot. So those who are buying flats now will realise only later that they have been cheated. Recently, even the Pollution Control Board, through a survey they conducted, realised the problems they will face in the future.
Question: "So, ultimately there is just another committee being formed?"
Reply: "Well, we didn't ask them to form a committee. The South City ministers who are in charge of this area formed it amongst themselves after they realised that the Pollution Control Board report clearly stated that all laws were broken in this housing project. This committee has been formed under the Chief Secretary along with 3-4 other ministers. Now we have no idea what their report will say. But as a citizen who has been attached to this issue for so long I feel that this committee has been formed only to support South City.
Question: "Could you describe the state of the fourth tower."
Reply: "The distance at which the first and second towers are from my house is not so much of a problem. But the third and fourth towers, especially the fourth which is already four floors high is quite scary. I have stopped going to my terrace. We're surrounded by these four tall structures around our house. Tower no. three is hardly 50 feet away from my house. The house next to ours is even closer to the building, about 25 feet; they have to live with their windows and doors closed all day. The third and fourth towers are so close that if any object, say a steel glass, falls from a top window it will land straight on my terrace or even crash into my window. This has just made us a little paranoid. When we bought the house, we had a lake in the south side; we didn't have to use the fan in the summers. Today, they have filled up a major part of the lake and every time we think of the high rises that are being built on our shoulders we only become a little more mentally disturbed. We don't know how this mental paranoia will affect us eventually. Maybe psychologists will do studies on us in the future as to how people living in healthy surroundings turned senile due to the building of housing complexes around them.
Question: "Development in a city is required, you cannot stop that, right?"
Reply: "Yes as cities grow, development continues, but there are some basic government guidelines of development that need to be followed. In order to use land for development, the government of West Bengal has in place the Land Use and Development Control Plan. But the problem is that projects like this one break all such rules and go ahead with so-called â??development'. City development is necessary. And who is it for? For the citizens, of course. But only so that they can live healthy and more convenient lives. What is the point of development if it is not suitable to the citizens and if it is harming them and their health? Development cannot happen when these set guidelines are broken. This is where the problem lies. Once upon a time, this Usha factory served as employment and livelihood for thousands of workers and their families. But today it is turning into a city centre. We do not have anything against the project; all we insist is that the project be conducted within the guidelines of the government, which will ultimately be beneficial to the people living there. We will be content that there is development along with a satisfied residential population.
Question: "But Usha factory was running at a loss?"
Reply: "But such an abrupt project in its place is not accepted. There was another proposal of a hospital and a medicine factory. If that was passed, there would not be any problems. There would be no congestion or pollution and there would be employment facilities available as well. This South City project will result in 5000 air conditioners running, another 5000 cars running - the pollution levels of this area will go to an unimaginable level. Nobody has thought of this. They just construct without thinking of the consequences.
Question: "Could you please tell us a little more about the areas where you expect pollution levels to rise drastically?"
Reply: "The moment the South City project began, pollution began. How you ask? Well, the vast number of labourers that have been brought in to do work have no hygiene facilities. They have no proper toilets. Then there is excessive dust, dirt and gravel caused by construction work and stone-cutting. Noise pollution levels have increased and we can hardly live in peace. They are not allowed to work between 8 pm and 8 am as per the Pollution Control Board rules but they defy the rules. You complain to the police but they do not take any action as they, too, are involved with the South City project. And this is only constructional pollution. Once the South City project will have residents living, pollution levels will go higher up. There has been no system fixed to manage waste water, car gas emissions will add to air pollution, there will be traffic congestion, air conditioners will let out heat and the temperatures of our surrounding will go up by a few degrees. And looking at the bigger picture, with so many air conditioners running the ozone layer will be further affected, which will result in polluted air and thus several respiratory problems. This area will have to suffer all the pollutions of a proper city; it will be a completely polluted area.
Question: "They don't have that kind of support here?"
Reply: "No, they cannot support something of this scale. They need to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment, to check the possible amount of pollution that will be created. But that has not been done. Adulterated reports have been made by local frauds and submitted. If it was made by the authentic committee then the local people would be involved in the assessment. Here the frauds have made a report according to what South City wants in the report. This is not at all authentic.